Birkenstock: Recovery Sandals For Runners–Really!

The timeless brand came out with the original recovery sandal in 1967.

Interview by: Somyr McLean Perry

When you think Birkenstock you probably think more hippy and less marathon runner. But this year Birkenstock USA, based in Novato, Calif., burst onto the running scene touting its iconic leather sandals with contoured cork footbeds as ideal for runners’ tired feet. Competitor‘s Somyr Perry asked Shelly Glasgow, director of product development and merchandising, about the company’s marketing campaign and its plans to educate runners on what Birkenstock can do to make you a better runner.

Competitor.com: Birkenstock is a timeless brand. But when I think of Birkenstock, I think of my hippie ex-boyfriend from high school. How is your new marketing campaign going to steer the brand’s image in the running market?

Shelly Glasgow: The foundation of the campaign is “Be yourself.” And, specific to the runners, “Be yourself, be naturally fit.” We believe it’s a perfect match for what our brand stands for and what runners are seeking. And for the first time we’re speaking directly to the running market. Not only in print, but also at consumer events all across the country such as marathon expos. It’s been fantastic.

The editors are delighted with all the different styles of sandals and shoes Birkenstock offers. What is your favorite style for style’s sake?

I love the Arizona. It really is the iconic look for the Birkenstock brand and it’s so right from a “style” perspective today. It’s all about simple, clean and minimal, yet functional. The Arizona is also one of the best fitting sandals and that’s truly what has made the style so iconic. The placement and design of the straps is ideal. The Arizona marries your foot perfectly to the footbed, and it works for virtually all foot shapes and sizes.

Our readers, who are avid runners, are certainly interested in style, but they’re also interested in what a product can do to help them be better runners. Birkenstock’s breakout into the running market is intriguing for this reason—what can your shoes/sandals do for runners?

The point is to provide the optimum recovery opportunity when they’re not running so that running becomes more enjoyable. Our footbed shape and construction gives runners that opportunity. The full and roomy shape combined with the contoured cork footbed and neutral heel all combine to allow your feet to be in their natural and free form, but with just the right support. It’s not about waterproof, or rugged, it’s about free and full support that shapes and molds to your foot over time. Our evidence is in our 40+ years of making a difference with millions of feet in our sandals.

What three things about Birkenstock—the company, the brand or the products—do you believe the running population doesn’t know but should?

First, that we didn’t just jump on board the recovery bandwagon. We built the wagon. Like JD Denton of Fleet Feet of Davis, Calif., said, “Birkenstock is the original recovery sandal, even though few of us used that phrase back in the 80s when we first started slipping on a pair after a long run… Recovery footwear may be all the rage these days but Birkenstock created the category decades ago with their very foot-friendly design.”

And it’s true. We were talking this talk in the 60s and continue to today. This concept of freedom, natural fit, neutral heel—that’s been our story since we started making shoes in 1967. It’s now 2011 and the world has changed, but fundamentally our shoe needs have not.

Second, I think folks would be surprised to find out that Birkenstock was the first to create the concept of a contoured, moldable arch support. Our arch support was the first product that Birkenstock ever produced and sold—and that was well before the recovery footwear of the 60s. And we still sell millions of them today. The Blue Footbed is an amazing yet simple arch support product for your non-Birkenstock footwear. And we were the first.

Finally, I would say folks might be surprised to find out that we’re not all hippies here. In fact, I myself have been accused of being a hippie on occasion. I’m reminded of that every day and I love it. We’re all different. Just like runners.

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Somyr McLean Perry is the executive editor for Competitor Magazine.

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